Torah Written Upon Stones


Moshe Ben-Chaim


What purpose was achieved by writing the Torah in 70 languages on three sets of 12 stones (36 stones total)? According to Talmud Sota, 35b, which opposes Rashi on the Chumash, one set was erected in Moav, one in Gilgal, and the third set in the Jordan itself. What is to be learned from these three sets of stones and their placement? I believe a significant idea is borne out of this one-time enactment.  

God promised Abraham He would give the land to his descendants. To demonstrate that 1) God fulfilled his promise, and that, 2) these were in fact Abraham’s worthy descendants, i.e., those who follow Abraham’s teachings (not merely biological descendants), it was necessary that the recipients of God’s promise to Abraham demonstrate that they do in fact follow the same ideology as Abraham. Being a descendant was no guarantee of receiving Israel. Sharing genes is insufficient. Abraham’s children and grandchildren are defined as those who hold fast to Abraham’s teachings. Their writing of the Torah on these stones prior to their entrance to Israel displayed their entitlement.

But why have such testimonial stones erected at three separate locations: One set in Moav (Trans-Jordan), one set in Israel in Gilgal, and one set in the Jordan river?

These three sets, I believe, prove that God was solely responsible for bringing the Jews into Israel. By erecting ‘road signs’ on both sides of the Jordan River, shows from where the Jews journeyed, and where they arrived. Placing one more set in the Jordan River itself, we discover how the Jews entered the land, i.e., through a miraculous event of the splitting of the Jordan. It would be impossible for anyone to erect and plaster such huge stones while immersed in the river. The stones therefore delineate the starting point, the end point, and the path. Such a path of entrance is only possible via a miracle, and therefore enacted by only God Himself. God thereby eliminates all possible explanations of the Jews entering the land, bereft of His divine intervention. God fulfilled His promise. 

I believe this to be the reasoning behind the miraculous conquest of Jericho as well: an indisputable proof of God’s essential involvement and fulfillment of His age-old oath to Abraham. Deuteronomy 27:3 reads, “And write on them (the stones) all the words of this Torah when you cross over, in order that you come to the land which Hashem your God gives you, a land flowing with milk and honey, as God — the God of your fathers — spoke to you.”  The verse testifies that the writing on these stones is connected with God’s promise.

The fact that the Torah is written in 70 languages upon these stones is to teach that the Torah is ultimately for all mankind. As we say in Alenu each day, “...and all children of flesh will call Your name.”

These three sets of stones teach future generations of the miracles of the entrance into Israel: God entered the Jews into the land in accordance with His oath. For that ancient generation, it was a demonstration that they truly followed Abraham’s teachings, and his monotheistic ideology learned from God. As God stated in Genesis, “Will I keep hidden from Abraham what I shall do (to Sodom)?” “…in order that he will command his son and his household after him, and they will keep God’s path.”

Another feature of these stones is that they contained carved Torah texts in 70 languages. This carved writing was to facilitate the plastering of these stones, literally forming a printing mechanism. When the plaster would dry and be peeled off the face of these stones, the plaster contained the Torah in raised text. When applied with ink and placed onto flat surfaces like paper or parchment, duplicate copies of the Torah were thereby created, in the 70 languages. The Talmud states this was to offer all nations the ability to study the Torah.